There is some magic in the fraternity of presidents. For the most most part they forgive one another for the insults they have endured on the political battlefield. And then, once they get their library centers up and functioning, they reach out to one another. Last week, when both President Bushes and President Carter joined Bill Clinton for the opening of his new Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark. (Gerald Ford, 91, did not feel up to the trip), they got drenched in the rain like everyone else. But afterward they and their wives got to dry out in the Clintons' private apartment at the top of the building. They drank hot tea and talked about how to resuscitate their clothes, before going downstairs for a tour from a very proud Clinton.
"He knew every inch of the place," marveled George H.W. Bush, whose own library in College Station, Texas, opened in 1997. "I learned a lot that will come in handy when years ahead we redo our library." Clinton returned the compliment, saying he had gotten "some great ideas from the Bush library, particularly from the design of the foyer," a chamber of light and openness. Their host looked thin and a bit wan to his guests. George H.W. Bush even mentioned his concern to Clinton, who is recovering from heart-bypass surgery. He assured Bush that he was having a normal recovery and would soon be up to his old speed.
The tour seemed to revive him. Clinton led his troop through the replicas of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room, and past the row of gift saxophones and life-size models of White House pets, Buddy the dog and Socks the cat. Clinton explained that he had approved every photo and every bit of text, and noted such design details as cherrywood trim and ultraviolet lights. The exhibits stress the history that Clinton likes to remember: meetings with heads of state, standing in elegant company at dinners and other ceremonies. Monica Lewinsky, the intern with whom Clinton dallied, gets only a couple of mentions--in text blocks under a section called "The Fight for Power," the theme of which is Clinton's fighting off Republican efforts to drive him from office.
The current President Bush was the quiet one on the tour, perhaps thinking of what his own presidential library would look like. John Kerry, his defeated Democratic opponent, was at the ceremony too but left out under the umbrellas, a contender whose loss gave George W. Bush another four years for his presidential library to chronicle when it eventually opens.